After spending about 117 years in the possession of Captain Philip Walkers’ family in Britain, two bronze works carted away from the Oba of Benin’s palace during the1897 invasion have finally been returned.
Dr. Mark Walker, a great grandson of Captain Philips, who had led the British soldiers to loot the palace at the time, made the presentation at the Oba’s palace in Benin at the weekend.
The two bronze artefacts are a long-beaked bird and a bell, which were removed by his great grandfather, Captain Philip Walker, in 1897.
They were received by the Oba at a reception organized in honour of the Briton in Benin.
Oba Erediauwa, who would mark his birthday in few days time, described the return of the antiquities as the best birthday gifts he had ever received.
The Oba, however, urged the other descendants of soldiers who fought in Benin and still kept the objects in their homes to emulate Dr. Adrian Walker’s friendly gesture and return the objects in their possession.
Dr. Walker, who expressed delight that the cultural antiquities were returned to their place of origin, noted that he was thankful to Oba and people of Benin for not rebuking him on account of his grandfather’s misdeed.
He said that he had persuaded his grandmother to take custody of the art works so that he could trace their root and return them to the rightful owners.
“I was very pleased to have them in my possession because they reminded me of my parents. But when I realized that my children were not interested in the bronze works, I knew I had to protect their future,”
He said that it was through the Internet, after typing in ‘Benin bronze,’ that he discovered the website of the Richard Lander Society, operated by Steve Sunstone, which linked him with the original owner of the antiquities.
“On that website is a brief history of the Benin and a passionate plea for the return of the bronzes.
“So, I contacted Mr. Sunstone and he very kindly put into effect a lot of work by him and his colleagues who arranged for visits to Nigerian High Commission in London and made contact with the royal household here,” he said.
A relative to the Oba and the Chairman, Great Benin Centenary Committee, Prince Edun Akenzua, while explaining that the gesture demonstrated by the returnee would contribute to “healing the bruise etched on the psyche of Benin people in 1987, urged the British government to facilitate the return of other bronze works still in its possession.”
The palace, however, dismissed the impression by the Boston Museum of Fine Arts that the Oba had endorsed a show put up by the museum to celebrate its acquisition of 34 of the looted Benin bronzes.
In his remarks, Edo State Governor, Adams Oshiomhole, commended the Oba for the peaceful return of the artefacts without any form of adjudication in a court of law.
“It pleased God Almighty that during his (Oba’s) reign these two artefacts were returned without firing a gunshot or hiring a team of senior advocates on international law to persuade Dr. Walker to return the artefacts,” he said.
The governor also described Dr. Walker a man with a “heart of gold” who believed that a wrong perpetrated could not be corrected by time but by doing what he had done.